Blog Introduction

This blog is the story of how my husband and I faced the illness and death of two of our children. Each blog post is essentially a chapter in the story, so in order to truly understand it, you are going to benefit by starting at the beginning.
I hope you find our story touching, and in some way find comfort and hope through it as you face your own storms in life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Final Chapter- Lessons Learned

Grief took me on a journey I never expected, and taught me things I never realized before. It was a very difficult road to have been on, and at times I simply wanted to quit. But God wouldn't let me.  His plan and purpose is to make us more like Him.  The refiner's fire is indeed hot, but the invaluable treasures which are revealed once the dross has been removed are worth the heat.  I learned and gained so many things through this journey.  I will share some of them with you as best I can.

1. Grief hurts! 
When we lose someone we love, the pain of that separation is immense.  There are no adequate words to describe the ripping, gaping hole that is left in one's heart and life once that person is gone; especially when it is a child.  It's been said that when you lose your parent, you lose your past; when you lose a spouse, you lose your present; and when you lose a child, you lose your future.  I believe it. We expect our parents to get old and die, and while their loss is still painful, it's "expected". We have all the memories of our time together throughout the years to bring comfort. When a spouse dies, our current situation is thrown into chaos. Having never experienced the loss of a spouse, I cannot speak from experience, but I know I would be lost without my husband. It has to be devastating.  When a child dies, it's different.  Until the day you die you will always have questions. What would have the child looked like? What would they have chosen for a career? Who would they have married? How many kids would they have?   The future is a huge empty slate where there should have been life and joy and memories.  There will always be an unfilled part of the parent’s life- a part that "should have been".  I think the death of a child is also different because that person was part of your own flesh and blood.  Especially for mothers this is difficult.  The baby was formed and grew and carried inside of her own body for a period of time.  There is an eternal connection made, and when that connection is severed, be it early in the pregnancy, or when the child is 50 years old, the tie is broken and an enormous loss is felt. Our Pastor recently passed away at 59 years of age.  His father said the loss was unlike any other pain he had ever felt. Parents should never have to bury their children.
I was raised in a stoic household.  We were taught by example not to talk about the painful or difficult things; they were mostly swept under the rug. Crying was rarely seen in my household. Even as a child I remember fighting to hold in tears when something sad happened to me. I was supposedly stronger if I didn't cry; if I told myself it was all okay.  The truth is- it's not okay. God did not design for His children to be separated from Him, or each other, so when that separation comes, it is painful and truly "unnatural”.
The church has jumped on this bandwagon, and in an effort to bring "comfort" it has instead stifled the grief of many.  Much of what I experienced was because of religious ideologies which had convinced me it was "okay" that my babies were dead.  It was "God's will" for them to die- "They're more God's than yours" - "they're in a better place"- "they aren't suffering anymore"- "you will see them again someday". All may be true, but they deny the misery of the present.  They diminish the agony felt in the heart of the bereaved, and tend to trivialize their pain.  It makes it unacceptable to really release the depth of the grief felt.  When we went for prayer after learning that Sarah would die, I felt as if everyone should be falling to the floor wailing.  At the retreat when I finally confronted my repressed grief, I fell to the floor wailing.  THIS is a picture of what grief looks like. People don't give themselves permission to show it; whether it's cultural or some personal restraint which holds them back, I don't know, but grief will knock you to the floor and rip your heart out in shreds.

2. We can learn something from other countries.
When death occurs in other countries, they really experience the pain and grief. In some lands, they hire "mourners" who follow the funeral procession wailing and crying.  It seems strange to us, but they may be more realistic in their pain than we are. Images of the bereaved being literally carried or dragged by family and friends to the funeral are realistic pictures of the agony of death. Maybe we need to become more "real" in our death experiences.  Maybe we need to show each other just how much we are hurting so the pain can be dealt with instead of suppressed, only to surface years later.

3. Don't judge people by the way they look, or the way they act.
In my younger days I judged people with depression as simply feeling sorry for themselves.  I still hear it today- "depressed people are full of self-pity".  It angers me to hear those words, especially when they are fired from the cannon of religion.  The last thing a depressed person needs is someone throwing more negatives at them- more blame, more guilt, more accusations. These are broad assumptions which bring more damage than good. Trade places with someone who is depressed for just one day; you may feel a little sorry for yourself, too, but more likely you would feel what they feel- overwhelming despair, and at times- nothing. Sitting around moping and feeling sorry for oneself would not fit in my definition of depression.  There may be a component of it in the beginning, but it was wrapped in the package of many other horrible things which overcame the person's ability to cope.  We don't often know what has led to a person's depression.  It could have been overwhelming emotional trauma, a brain chemical imbalance, or some other life event which led to it.  You don't know what the person has experienced, and you don't know how much that person is capable of handling before they have reached their limit and simply shut down.  We are way too quick to throw judgment and labels on people. We need to talk to people. We need to stand beside them and walk through difficult times with them, allowing them to feel whatever emotion it is they are feeling. Only then do we have the right to help guide them through their dark night of the soul.  Be a friend, don't be a stone-thrower.  Be the listening ear; the shoulder to cry on.  Be JESUS to them and love them right where they are. 

4. Be an advocate.
If you know someone is in danger due to depression or thoughts of suicide, don't wait and wonder; act!  Better to be embarrassed for being overly cautious, than needing to comfort the grieving family of one who committed suicide.

5. Satan is a big, fat liar!
Satan will sit and whisper lie after lie in your ear to turn you from God. He uses our weaknesses and our wounds to inflict his damage. When we are weak it is easier to believe the lies.  We all need friends who will reinforce the truth of God in our lives.  We need to have the Word placed in our hearts and minds, especially when we are suffering.

6. We need friends who will ride the storm out with us.
I had a friend who took me into her home and daily spent time alone with me, counseling and reinforcing God's word and love into my heart.  Not many people would do such an incredible thing.  I had other friends who gave varying degrees of love to me, but all were needed, and all helped to rebuild my life.  I had a counselor who "sat in the dirt along the road" with me.  She took me by the hand and helped me crawl toward my healing, even when it got dirty.  Recovery takes time! We cannot be impatient and expect immediate results. To do so would certainly be seen as failure by the depressed person as they were once again unable to meet someone’s standards and expectations. People with grief and depression require years to recover; we must be willing to walk that long path with them.

7. God loves me.
Through this journey I became reacquainted with the Friend I met back in my childhood.  I no longer think I live in a candy-coated world where everything will turn out like I dream it will, but I have a stronger and renewed love for the God who made me just as I am for His glory and purposes.  I know I am not immune to pain and suffering, and unless I go home to be with Him soon, I know there will undoubtedly be more loss and more disappointments in my future.  I will have to surrender them anew to Him when they come, and it will undoubtedly take some battling once again. But I have confidence that He will never leave me.  He will cause heaven and earth to shake, and He'll move us half way around the world, if needed, in order to redeem His own.
For years, friends had encouraged me to read the book entitled "The Shack", but I could never pick it up and read it. I simply had no interest.  After I had recovered from my depression and grief, I picked it up and began to read it. I devoured it in two days.  I love that book!  I know there is controversy surrounding it, and some Christians speak out against even reading it, but it ministered to my heart in a huge way.  I fell more in love with God than I had ever been in love with Him before!  Someday I'm going to write an analysis of the book; both from a personal and a psychological viewpoint.  I think it's an absolute treasure, and I am grateful to have read it.

8. Now help others
We are given experiences in our lives for a reason.  God wants us to use the things we learn to help others walking similar journeys. Before my healing, people would tell me how I could be a huge help to other people walking through grief, and in some aspects, I believe I did.  Heartstrings Ministry, and my job at the hospital, were just a couple of examples.  But outside of those, I always felt like I was being pressured to help other people in grief; as if it were my main responsibility in life.  The truth was I wanted to run from it. I didn't want to help others because I needed help myself. Helping them would mean having to touch my own pain, and I wasn't ready to. Now, having been through the valley of the shadow of death, and having come out on the other side totally healed, I am more open and able to share and help others.  I now know there is hope, and there is a place of rest for the weary.  I no longer look at it as an "obligation", but now I see it as a privilege to walk with another fellow sojourner on the path to wholeness.

9. Love each other.
No one knows the number of days he is given.  Don't assume you will have your parent or spouse or child the next day.  Cherish them and love them with all their quirky faults.  You will wish you had when they are gone. Love them in spite of themselves. Love them because it's what God would want you to do as His children. Love them because it's the right thing to do.

In conclusion:
Life is a journey, and mine has gone places I never would have dreamed it would. There have been many dark and dreadful paths I've had to follow, and there have been crossroads where I've simply sat down, bewildered for lack of knowing which way to go.  But now I'm up and walking again; looking forward to brighter days ahead and the promises of God's blessing on my life.  I know He will make all things good.

Thanks for reading and sharing my story.
Cheryl Stearns
Alias Sarah Ryan

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